Global bird flu disrupts Georgia exports, costing chicken producers millions

Chickens (Credit: Ivonne Wierink)

Chickens (Credit: Ivonne Wierink)

Apr 29, 2024

ATLANTA — A global bird flu that has rapidly spread from birds to dairy cows, milk supplies and humans has cost untold millions of dollars in lost export business in Georgia, the nation’s leading poultry producer, officials with the state Department of Agriculture and poultry industry said.

Georgia has had only three reported cases of H5N1 avian influenza since it reemerged in 2022. The last of those cases was resolved in November 2023 but ramifications of those outbreaks continue to have a big effect on the state’s ability to export chicken and chicken parts, such as chicken feet, to different countries, including China, one of Georgia’s biggest export markets for chicken feet.

In 2022, frozen chicken feet, for example,  accounted for more than 85% of all U.S. poultry exported to China, according to Farm Progress, publisher of 22 farming and ranching magazines. 

The $30 billion poultry industry is Georgia’s largest segment in its No. 1 industry — agriculture.

China has also placed a ban on the import of chicken products from 41 other American states. The ban on Georgia products went into effect Nov. 21, 2023. Efforts to reach the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. were unsuccessful.

Georgia Poultry Federation President Mike Giles estimates the state’s loss at “well into the millions of dollars.”

“It's a significant amount in a significant export market for us,” he said. “Poultry paws [feet] immediately lose value because of the loss of demand.”  

The ban has forced Georgia poultry producers to find alternative markets for their products that would normally be headed to China.

“Some are sold domestically, some are frozen and stored, hopefully to find markets later on, and some go to other countries,” Giles said.

This isn’t the first time China has banned U.S.-produced poultry products due to a bird flu outbreak. The country instituted a ban in January 2015 which lasted until November 2019 — even though  U.S. poultry products were deemed free of the disease by August 2017. 

After that ban was lifted, China’s appetite for American-produced chicken products became voracious.

In 2022, U.S. producers shipped nearly $6 billion in poultry meat and related products (excluding eggs) to over 130 countries. China has emerged as the second largest destination for U.S. poultry exports, increasing from $10 million in 2019 to a record $1.1 billion in 2022, according to Southern Ag Today.

Chicken paws, for instance,  are eaten in many Asian countries, including the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Korea.They can also be found on Chinese dim sum menus throughout the U.S. and are also popular in Jamaica, Trinidad, Russia and Ukraine in everything from soups and curries to fried snacks.

Three Georgia counties have reported H5N1 outbreaks since 2022. The most recent case was  late last year.  Henry, Sumter and Toombs counties each reported one case of H5N1 bird flu. Those outbreaks are resolved, poultry and state agriculture officials say.

“When HPAI cases are found in any state, that state is given a designation that could lead to foreign countries halting trade on poultry products from that state,” Georgia Department of Agriculture spokesman Matthew Agvent told State Affairs.

Not since 2016 has the United States experienced such a fast-moving case of the H5N1 avian influenza. In the last two months, the virus has spread in parts of the United States from birds to dairy cows, some milk supplies and humans.  Two people — a Texas dairy worker and a prison inmate in Colorado who was killing infected birds at a poultry farm — are reported to have caught the virus, according to news reports.  The outbreak is the largest in recent history, impacting both domestic poultry and livestock as well as wild birds and some mammal species.

 State officials are continuing to monitor the national outbreak and its impact on Georgia.

Georgia’s poultry & egg industry: At A Glance

Annual economic impact: $30.2 billion

Percentage of the Agriculture industry: 58% *

Jobs:  87,900

Counties involved in poultry & egg production: 3 out of 4

National ranking in chicken broiler production: No. 1

Daily production of table eggs: 7.8 million

Daily  production of hatching eggs:  6.5 million

Pounds of chicken produced daily: 30.2 million

Pounds of chicken produced annually: 8 billion

Number of chicken broilers processed each day: 5 million

Counties involved in poultry & egg production: 3 out of 4

Source: Georgia Poultry Federation; The Center for Agribusiness & Economic Development, University of Georgia,  Ag Snapshots 2024; Georgia Poultry Federation.

Have questions? Contact Tammy Joyner on X @lvjoyner or at [email protected].